It’s a lot, especially as Blair makes herself more and more vulnerable and provides a window to her pain and fear through both the raw video diaries she shoots herself and the nuanced moments she lets Fleit capture. (The filmmaker has alopecia, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss; both her sensitivity and sense of humor shine through in her documentary film debut.) “Introduction, Selma Blair” is often a harsh viewing experience, and it should be. What is the documentary form, if not a mechanism to show us the truth about how others live? The honesty shown here is crucial, both for people who have no idea what multiple sclerosis is and for those who may be suffering from the disease where the immune system attacks the protective cover of the nerves.
But when the film seems on the verge of turning maudlin, Blair shifts the tone through some biting, self-dismissive quip that instantly eases the mood. Her self-awareness and her frequent willingness to laugh at herself in the saddest situations interrupted the tension. When we first see her, she puts on a turban and uses serious makeup to dress like Norma Desmond for an interview in her Studio City, California, home. She uses this flair for the dramatic to disarm us throughout. But what is truly compelling — devastating indeed — is the transformation she allows us to witness as she sits in a cocoon-like red chair and describes her condition. A sweet, white terrier mix slumbers contentedly in her lap. At first, she jokes funny jokes about the importance of walking with a stylish cane and speaks eloquently about how she hopes her illness will inspire her to become a better human being in her late 40s. But the second her comfort dog jumps off and springs away, we can practically see the mask fall. It’s like someone turned a switch. Suddenly her speech stops and slurps. She is smoky and self-aware. “Now the fatigue is happening,” she makes an effort to articulate. It’s painful for her and for us as viewers, but she wants us to see this, because that’s her reality. Finally a whimper: “I have no more,” she concludes.
Equally enlightening are the moments she shares with her son, for whom she gives every energy in her body to hold an impromptu dance party or a game of dodgeball. When he tells her around the age of seven that he’s afraid of what she’s going to look like without hair – because she’s going to have painful chemotherapy in preparation for stem cell treatment – she’s doing the most inspired and frightening mother movement I’ve ever seen in a row. him scissors and cuts and lets him cut it himself. (My child is almost 12, and I would not let him be near my head with scissors.) These moments may seem superficially uplifting, but they carry an undercurrent of melancholy – as is so often the case throughout the film. – because they then clearly reflect Blair’s intention to be a completely different kind of mother than the one she had. She is honest about the darkness and rage she believes she has inherited from her hypercritical mother, and learning that she has doubted herself all these years is heartbreaking.
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